Haiti, a Caribbean, western one-third island of Hispaniola, that borders Dominican Republic, and slightly smaller than Maryland. A nation still recovering from a calamitous earthquake of five years ago, where more than a quarter of a million people were killed. The very poor nation and weak state has found themselves in a deepening political crisis.
This past Sunday, Haiti’s Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe announced his resignation with a chance of clearing the way for elections. President Michel Martelly will now have to appoint a new government that can oversee legislative and municipal elections, that have been delayed by more than three years.
January 12, is when elections are to be held, if not parliament will be forced to shut down. This may result in Martelly ruling by decree, which might bring back memories of the dark days of dictatorship that dominates Haiti’s history. Lamothe, in a resignation speech on Sunday, said he was proud of his administration and that Haiti had been put on a positive course. “I am leaving the post of prime minister,” “with a feeling of accomplishment.” Lamothe added that he was stepping down with the hope that the move would “unblock the political crisis.” Since a special presidential commission had recommended that Lamothe be removed as part of a series of measures aimed at easing tensions.
The process of replacing Lamothe could open a period of conflict and instability. It is hard to see Parliament approve Martelly’s choice by Jan.12. It took Martelly three choices and several months to get Lamothe approved back in 2012.
Andre Michel, a young opposition protester and lawyer, called Lamothe’s departure “too little, too late” and searched for more demonstrations against the ruling elite. Opposition parties have also boycotted recent talks initiated by the government aimed at resolving the crisis before the end of the year.
Angry demonstrations are demanding the resignations of Martelly and Lamothe have spread from Port-au-Prince, to other Haitian cities. Reports of a man shot to death in the protests near the ruins of the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince last week, while other demonstrators were targeted by tear gas. Even the UN peacekeepers have also opened fired on demonstrators in at least one incident which is currently under investigation.
The political instability has also threatened Haiti’s slow recovery and ability to attract FDI. Despite some economic growth in recent years, the government is seen as corrupt and self-serving.
US officials have been active in defusing the crisis. Special Haiti Envoy Bill Clinton, defended Lamothe and Martelly in a recent interview with the Miami Herald. “The one thing that Haiti does not want to get out of this process is looking like ‘OK, we had four great years, we were growing like crazy so you think we’ll throw it all away and go back to the old war,” he told the paper. “It won’t be good for the country.” The apparent support for the Haitian administration has angered many citizens, giving the current wave of protests an anti-American tinge.
Negotiations on a new prime minister and government more reflective of the political parties in parliament are expected to begin this week. Historically these have been protracted political battles in Haiti where the departure of a prime minister in the past has sometimes left month-long political void and further instability.